by RABBI BINYOMIN ADLER
ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני ה’ מקדשכם
“And you shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the children of Israel; I am G-d Who sanctifies you.” (Vayikra 22:32)
In its simplest form, this mitzvah entrusts every Jew (whether he is aware of his lofty status or not) to serve as G-d’s emissary in this world and positively reflect on G-d and His Torah. Any action that brings honor to G-d is considered a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of His name. Any action that disgraces G-d or the Torah is considered a chillul Hashem, a desecration of His name.
The obligation, though, goes one step further. If one is G-d forbid confronted with a situation in which he must either transgress one of the “cardinal sins” (idolatry, adultery and murder) or lose his life, he must willingly give up his life. Rashi adds that when one must give up his life, he must do so with the expectation that he will not be saved through a miracle. If he expects to be saved through a miracle, he will not be saved. This statement however seems misplaced. A person who is at the point at which he is ready to sacrifice his life for the sake of G-d is likely not expecting to be saved!
An insight into Rashi’s comment may be gleaned from an incident involving the Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov (1745-1815). The Rebbe, who routinely immersed every Friday in a mikvah (a ritual bath) in preparation for Shabbat, arrived one Friday only to find that the bath attendant had emptied the water from the mikvah earlier than usual. Rather than expressing disappointment, the Rebbe smiled with joy. “Before doing a mitzvah,” he explained, “once must carefully think about the act he is about to perform to ensure that it will be altruistically done in a manner that brings honor to G-d. At the end of the day however, who can really claim that his intentions while actually performing the mitzvah were pure and without ulterior motives? I always wonder then whether any of my own actions are truly pure.
“Today however was different. Our sages tell us that when one attempts to perform a mitzvah and is unable to do so because of circumstances beyond his control – he is deemed to have fulfilled the mitzvah. Though I may be incapable of maintaining that level of purity in my actions, the Torah which, so to speak, fulfilled the mitzvah for me today, certainly accomplished the mitzvah in the ideal fashion. My mitzvah is therefore greater today than ever. ”
The story calls attention to the fact that it isn’t simple to always perform mitzvot with thoroughly pure intentions. Apparently, the Torah recognizes this challenge and cuts us some slack with most mitzvot as long as we try our best. Not so when it comes to the “mitzvah” of giving up one’s life to sanctify G-d’s name. Human life is too precious in the eyes of the Torah to allow some to give it up without the purest of intentions. Even hoping to be saved by a miracle detracts from the mitzvah.
Most of us will hopefully never be confronted with the mitzvah of sacrificing our lives. Nonetheless, we twice daily recite the Shema prayer (“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One”), wherein we declare our commitment to serve G-d with all our heart, and all our soul. Part of that declaration implies our readiness to give up our life for His sake, but the more relevant objective is a declaration to serve G-d – while we are alive – with all our heart and all our soul. While that dedication may be imperfect at times, striving to live according to His will should be our life’s goal.
by OZER ALPORT
וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימה תהיינה
“You shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving, seven weeks that shall be complete.” (Vayikra 23:15)
The holidays of Passover and Shavuot are separated by a 7-week period. Beginning on the 2nd day of Passover, when a grain-offering known as the Omer was brought in the Temple, 49 days were counted and the following day (the 50th) was the festival of Shavuot.
The above verse contains the mitzvah known as Sefirat HaOmer – counting the Omer. During each successive day of this 7-week period, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. However, if somebody forgets to count one of the days, he must continue to count the successive days but he may no longer recite the blessing. As the entire count is considered to be one complete mitzvah, rather than 49 individual ones for each day counted, somebody who misses even one day can no longer properly fulfill this mitzvah.
This concept is unparalleled among other mitzvot. If somebody accidentally ate chometz on Passover or forgot to light a menorah on one night of Chanuka, one would surely not assume that he is now exempt from observing the mitzvah for the duration of the holiday. Why is counting the Omer unique in this regard?
The Medrash teaches that Rabbi Akiva grew up as an uneducated shepherd. That all changed when at the age of 40, he noticed a rock with a hole which had been born through it by dripping water. He reasoned that if the water could penetrate the hard rock, certainly the Torah (which is also compared to water) could penetrate the soft flesh of his heart. He was motivated to begin learning, starting from scratch with the Aleph-Beit, until he eventually became the greatest scholar of his generation. What deeper message did Rabbi Akiva find in the dripping water which gave him confidence in his new undertaking?
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when a person wants to boil water, he puts a pot on the stove for one minute until it begins to boil. What would happen if he placed it on the stove for 30 seconds, removed it from the flame for 5 minutes, and returned it for another 30 seconds? Even though the water was on the fire for a full minute, it wouldn’t boil. It isn’t the amount of time that the water is on the flame which is crucial, but the continuity. It is the accumulated power of the heat during 60 uninterrupted seconds which allows the water to boil.
Similarly, Rabbi Akiva was skeptical about his potential for beginning to study Torah at his age. If he had to start from the beginning and could realistically only learn a small amount daily, how much could he really accomplish? However, when he saw the hole in the rock created by the water, he recognized his error. Although each individual drop of water makes no distinguishable impression on the rock, the cumulative effect of their continuous dripping is indeed great. Understanding the power latent in continuity, Rabbi Akiva set off to study diligently until he became the leader of the generation.
The 7-week period of the Omer is one in which we prepare to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuot. As a result, Rabbi Eliezer Fireman suggests that the Torah requires us to count the Omer without missing a day to symbolically hint to us the importance of stability in our Torah study. Rabbi Akiva teaches that the key isn’t the age at which we start, but rather the continuity and permanence of our studies. If we persevere, the “hole” will be much greater than the sum of the parts!
Receiving the Torah Every Day
by RABBI DOVID GILMAN
וקראתם בעצם היום הזה מקרא קדש יהיה לכם…
“You shall convoke on this very day; there shall a holy convocation for yourselves…” (Vayikra 23:21).
Are you in a rut? Most people live their adult lives on a fixed course, without anything new or revolutionary happening to them for years on end. Is that inevitable, or can a person break free from monotony?
In the Torah portion this week, the Torah enumerates the holidays, their dates, why they are celebrated, and their unique laws. For example, the holiday of Sukkot falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh Hebrew month (Tishrei); we sit in sukkahs because the Israelites sat in sukkahs in the desert. The one holiday for which the Torah does not provide an explanation is Shavuot, the holiday which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Important details about Shavuot are noticeably missing. Instead of specifying a particular date on which Shavuot falls (the sixth of Sivan), the Torah says that it takes place on the fiftieth day after the second day of Passover. The Torah says to make that day a holy day but does not explain why we celebrate it, nor does it make any mention of Torah study, an essential focus of the day. Why wouldn’t the Torah spell out these aspects of Shavuot as fully as it does for Passover and Sukkot?
The Kli Yakar commentary says that elaborating on these details about Shavuot would defeat its purpose. When a person studies Torah, he should not simply “read” the text; he must endeavor to delve into it and discover its deeper meaning — even if he is studying a topic he has learned many times before. When studying the laws of slaughtering, the laws of damages, or even the laws of Shabbat, he has the potential to receive a “new” Torah each day through his new insights and new perspectives. Stating that the Torah was given on the sixth of Sivan would imply that the giving of the Torah was merely a one-time event.
The Talmud tells the story of King Yannai who was purportedly insulted by the rabbis of his time. One of his advisers told him to simply execute all the rabbis. The king asked him, “But if I kill them all, then who will study and interpret the Torah for us?” His adviser answered, “The Torah is out there for anyone to reference if they need to.” The king decreed a death sentence against the rabbis, and they fled the country.
King Yannai’s adviser had it all wrong. While anyone can open up a Torah and read through it, it is not an encyclopedia in which one can simply look up laws when necessary. It is a treasure chest filled with an infinite quantity of priceless gems. New insights can be gleaned from it every time it is studied. The seemingly missing details regarding Shavuot remind us of the need to search for a new and deeper meaning each time we study Torah. By doing so, we will not only have a deeper appreciation for the Shavuot holiday, but we will have the privilege of receiving the Torah anew, each and every day.
Unraveling Social Policy
by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM
לא תכלה פאת שדך בקצרך ולקט קצירך לא תלקט לעני ולגר תעזב אתם אני ה’ אלקיכם
“You shall not remove completely the corners of your field as you reap, and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest. For the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them…” (Vayikra 23:22).
When detailing the laws of the festivals, immediately after the laws of Shavuot the Torah inserts laws of leket and peah, which instruct us to leave over different parts of our harvest for the poor. How do these laws fit into this Torah portion?
Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Meshech Chochmah) explains that we are being taught an important foundation of the Torah, which was given on Shavuot. The Torah is not just a set of laws instructing mankind how to interact with G-d, a set of strictures and rules for human communication with the Divine. The Torah is an entire system of moral living, and as such contains the formula that synergizes optimal relationships with our fellow humans and with G-d.
To emphasize this idea, the Torah places moral precepts dealing with kindness and charity right next to the laws discussing Shavuot, when we received the Torah. Today, charity is such an ingrained value that people have a hard time linking it to the Torah. However, most societies in the pre-Torah world were not charitable, and the idea of people tithing their crops or leaving over an entire corner of their fields was as foreign to them as the idea of not eating milk and meat together or keeping Shabbat.
In a class on the history of social policy I once took, the professor explained that the first recorded social policy in which people took responsibility for the poor was the Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601. I didn’t argue with my professor that first day, but I remember scrolling mentally through the dozens of laws in the Torah (circa 1312 BCE) that put responsibility for the poor, the widow, and the orphan onto the rest of society. This same Torah that sets the foundation for social welfare also contains the laws of kashrut and teaches us to respect the wise man over the strong man. Indeed the mark of the greatest Torah scholars is not only their brilliant minds but their great sensitivity to the needs of others.
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik exemplified this. While known for his magnum opus, the Beis Halevi, a work still studied widely today, the stories of his kindness are even more legendary. During the busy pre-Passover season, as dozens of people streamed through his house asking him questions, a local widow asked if she could use milk (instead of wine) for her four cups at the Seder. Although the question had a simple answer, Rabbi Soloveitchik appeared to give it serious thought, so as not to embarrass the woman for asking such a simple question. Then he answered her that one could not use milk to fulfill the mitzvah of the four cups.
After the woman left, Rabbi Soloveitchik instructed one of the members of his household to purchase all of the woman’s Passover necessities—wine, meat, matzah, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables—and discreetly place them outside the woman’s door. When asked the reason for this unusual errand, Rabbi Soloveitchik answered, “If she is coming to ask me whether she can use milk for the Seder, it is clear that she can’t even afford four cups of wine, let alone all the other needs for Passover!”
This exemplifies the Torah’s perfect blend of spirituality and humanity.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
The Torah portion this week describes numerous laws that apply only to the kohanim (plural of kohein—priest). The Torah says that these laws make the kohanim “holy unto their G-d, and not profane the name of their G-d” (Vayikra 21:6).
- The Torah commands the kohanimto be Holy to G-d and not to desecrate His name. Yet in the verses immediately following this, the Torah enumerates things forbidden to a kohein, such as marrying a profaned woman. Why does the Torah begin by commanding the kohanim to reach tremendous levels of piety and holiness, only to immediately warn them against sinking to the lowest levels fathomable? (Darkei Mussar by Rabbi Yaakov Neiman)
- Kohanim with certain physical blemishes were not allowed to perform the service in the Temple (Vayikra 21:17,18). The Torah, the source of all Jewish values, has numerous laws which prohibit insensitivity towards others, despite any physical, material, or spiritual shortcomings they may have. Appearance, from the Torah’s perspective, is surely insignificant, especially when compared to character. Why, then, would the Torah exclude a perfectly decent kohein from performing the service simply because of a physical (seemingly superficial) physical blemish?
“You shall observe My commandments and perform them; I am G-d! And you shall not desecrate My holy name, rather I should be sanctified among the children of Israel; I am G-d Who sanctifies you, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; I am G-d!” (Vayikra 22:31-33)
Under the obligation to be “mekadesh Hashem” (to sanctify G-d’s name), we have a two basic commandments: a daily requirement to live in a manner that sanctifies G-d’s name, and an obligation to surrender one’s life and sanctify the name of G-d rather than submit to even a forced transgression of one of the three cardinal sins (adultery, idolatry, and murder).
1) Although limited to only three sins, martyrdom seems so alien to Judaism, which values life above all else. Why would dying be a better option than sinning only once and then continuing to properly live life to its fullest? Isn’t it better to be a live, active, conscientious Jew than a dead one?
2) Of what relevance is the fact that G-d took us out of Egypt to the obligation to live a sanctified life?
3) What are some practical ways that one can sanctify G-d’s name on a daily basis?
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, better known as the Baal HaTurim writes that each of the three Biblical festivals is associated with one of the forefathers, with Pesach corresponding to Abraham, Shavuot to Isaac, and Sukkot to Jacob. What connections between the holidays and their corresponding Patriarchs can you find?
The Torah portion this week describes the holidays. These are repeatedly referred to as mo’adim,which literally means occasions or appointed times. The first verse on the topic (Vayikra 23:2) mentions the holidays. The second verse refers to Shabbat, and the third verse reverts back to the holidays, detailing their laws. In connection with Shavuot, a time which celebrates the harvest, the Torah mentions an obligation unique to farmers: they must leave a corner of their field unharvested, so that the needy may harvest crops for themselves.
- In the times when the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, was still functioning, they determined the day on which the holidays fell based on when the new moon was sighted. Thus, the length of the months were dynamic — they were thus truly mo’adim, or times appointed by the high court. Shabbat, on the other hand, occurs every seven days, without any need for the court to designate or appoint that day as Shabbat. Why, then, would Shabbat be mentioned along with the mo’adim?
- If one is obligated to support the poor with charitable contributions, why require them to come to the field and get the produce themselves? It would seem that delivering the crops to the poor would be a more dignified means of charity. Additionally, outright giving would seem to be a more just distribution of goods than a system based on “first come, first served.” What benefit(s) could there be with this pick-it-up-yourself system?
The mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer (lit. “Counting the Omer,” see Vayikra 23:15), which requires a daily counting for 49 days, starting from the second day of Pesach up to the holiday of Shavuot when we received the Torah, is unique with regard to the law pertaining to someone who missed a day of counting. If, for example, someone missed a day of lighting the menorah on Chanukah, he may resume his regular routine of lighting the menorah on the following evening. If someone missed a day of the Omer counting, however, he must resume the count on the following days but may no longer recite the blessing. Why is this mitzvah different than all other mitzvot?
Q: A person who forgets or for any reason is unable to count even one night of the Omer is unable to continue counting on successive nights with a blessing, as the nightly counting over the course of the 7 weeks is considered to be one extended mitzvah (Vayikra 23:15). According to many opinions, the blessings which he recited until then are retroactively considered to have been in vain. A sickly centenarian’s doctors told him before Pesach that based on his poor medical condition, he would surely die before Shavuot, 7 weeks later. Is he permitted to recite the nightly blessing when beginning to count the Omer, as the laws of nature seemed to indicate that he would be prevented from successfully completing the mitzvah, thereby invalidating his blessings?
A: Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein responded that when a clever child has a tremendous craving for a sweet which his mother refuses to give him, he will simply recite its appropriate blessing, essentially forcing his mother to give him some in order that his blessing not be in vain. Similarly, he advised the man that specifically beginning to count with the recital of the accompanying blessing, he could in effect “force” the Heavenly Court to allow him to remain alive – against the doctor’s prognosis – until after Shavuot in order to complete the mitzvah. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to note that the man died the week after Shavuot! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: Parshat Emor concludes with the tragic narrative recounting the episode in which a Jew blasphemously invoked G-d’s name. Rashi explains that the blasphemer was upset about the Showbread in the Tabernacle. He argued that if a human king is served warm, freshly baked bread every day, it is inappropriate and disrespectful to serve G-d old, stale week-old bread in the Temple. When another Jew rebuked him for speaking disparagingly about the mitzvot, they began fighting, at which time the scoffer blasphemously uttered G-d’s name. How is it possible that somebody who was motivated by a desire to increase G-d’s honor and glory fell so quickly and drastically, to the point that he committed the ultimate disrespect to G-d by blasphemously invoking His Holy name?
A: In his work Yalkut Yehuda, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ginsburg cites Maimonides, who cautions against extremism, advising that the proper path to take in life and in all areas is the middle one. Rabbi Ginsburg suggests that somebody who is by nature a fanatic can easily switch from one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes. In this case, the blasphemer decided to be more “machmir” (stringent) than the Torah in his concern for the slight to G-d’s honor brought about through the week-old bread. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that such an individual was able to quickly switch from a fanatic for G-d’s glory to one who commits the ultimate attack on Him by cursing His name! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
By RABBI ELAZAR MEISELS
“You shall sanctify him for he offers the food of your G-d, he shall remain holy to you.” Vayikra 21:8
You Shall Sanctify Him – even against his will – Rashi
He Shall Be Holy Unto You – treat him with sanctity, to take precedence in all matters of sanctity [i.e. be called up to the Torah first], and to bless first at a meal. – Rashi
From where does a Kohen (priest) acquire his sanctity? Is it perhaps due to some intrinsic greatness that he possesses that all others lack? The Torah tells us that it’s a result of the fact that, “he offers the food of your G-d.” He is entrusted by the Almighty to perform the Temple service, and this responsibility endows him with a special degree of sanctity that mandates that we accord him great honor. A Kohen cannot forgo this special status and he must do everything in his ability to maintain it. This includes even forgoing marriage with a woman who is not permitted to him by the Torah, as such an act displays a lack of regard for his elevated status.
“The Kohen who is exalted above his brethren, upon whose head the anointment oil was poured… shall not leave his head unshorn and shall not rend his garments. He shall not approach any dead person; he shall not defile himself to his father or his mother.’” Vayikra 21:10-11
To his father or his mother – This verse speaks about a Kohen Gadol (High Priest), who is not allowed to contaminate himself by attending the burial of anybody, including his own parents. The only exception is a one who has nobody to attend his burial. This stands in contrast to a common Kohen, who may contaminate himself for his seven close relatives as delineated in the previous verses.
To his father or his mother – The Levite tribe (which includes the Kohanim) earned its exalted status by virtue of their actions protesting and fighting the perpetrators and participants in the sin of the Golden Calf. Doing so required unusual fealty to G-d and a willingness to overlook love for one’s relatives, for they were required to execute all who participated, even their own parents if they were guilty of such. This loyalty earned them the right and distinction to act as G-d’s messengers for eternity, and the mandate to avoid contamination, even if caused by a parent. By overcoming their natural bonds in the episode of the Golden Calf, they merited to be raised above them for eternity. – Ahavat Yonatan
Why is a High Priest different from the rest of the priests in that he may not contaminate himself for any of his relatives? What could possibly be wrong with doing so? A leader of the people must recognize that as leader, he is personally responsible for each and every individual and must never experience deeper feelings for one over the other. This means that he may not even love his own family more than others, for doing so compromises his status as leader. Had the Torah asked the High Priest to avoid contamination for others, but allowed him to contaminate himself for his own family, his role as leader would have been diminished. Instead, the Torah insisted that he contaminate himself for no one, not even his own wife, children, siblings, or parents. It is said of Rabbi Dovid Lelover zt”l that he once remarked in anguish, “How can people consider me a leader of the generation when I still love my own children slightly more than I do all others?”
FAITH IN THE DARKNESS
“Anyone touching [that impure person] will be impure until the evening. He shall not eat of the holy things unless he has immersed his body in water. When the sun sets, he is pure, and afterwards, he may eat of the holy foods, for it is his bread.” Vayikra 22:6, 7
When the sun sets – “From when do we recite Shema in the evening? From the time that the Kohanim enter to eat their holy foods [i.e. following the setting of the sun which allows him to eat the holy foods] as it is written, ‘When the sun sets, he is pure, and afterwards, he may eat of the holy foods’” – Mishnah, Brachot 1:1
What connection exists between the recitation of the evening Shema, and the time that the impure Kohanim may resume eating their holy foods? Rabbi Avraham of Sochatchev, zt”l, explained that the reason the Kohanim may resume eating holy foods is because with the setting of the sun they are no longer ritually impure, since it is considered as if a new day has begun. Although they had been ritually impure all day long, that is now considered history because the setting of the sun heralds a new day. If so, it stands to reason that one should not continue without first reciting the Shema and declaring his belief in the Oneness of the Almighty, since a day has begun and the proper way to begin living it is with a declaration of our faith.
HIGH ABOVE SUSPICION
“You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am G- Who sanctifies you.” Vayikra 22:32
You shall not desecrate – Desecration of G-d’s Name is the most serious of all sins and one which is most difficult to atone. Under certain circumstances, it is even obligatory to give up one’s life rather than desecrate G-d’s Name. – Talmud, Tractate Yoma 86a
You shall not desecrate – If a Jew is in a situation in which he is required to give up his life rather than desecrate G-d’s Name, he should do so without expectation of a miracle occurring to save his life. Rather he should act as Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did when threatened by Nevuchadnezzer, who wished to cast them into a fiery furnace unless they bowed to his statue. They responded that G-d was surely capable of saving them, but they didn’t know if He would, and were prepared to sacrifice themselves regardless, rather than desecrate His Name. – Rashi
You shall not desecrate – This verse must cause one to tremble, because even by violating a single prohibition, one has desecrated G-d’s Name. One who studies Torah is especially expected to behave with utmost caution and never do anything that could lead others to think ill of G-d, His Torah, or those who follow it. One who fails to maintain this lofty standard is called a desecrator of His Name. – Sefer Charedim
The sainted Chafetz Chaim would regularly share these words of the Sefer Charedim with his students and remind them that they had to behave more scrupulously than others lest they desecrate the Name of G-d. He would often tell them that although according to halachah (Jewish law), there are many leniencies of which they could potentially take advantage, they must resist the urge to do so, lest others think less of them. Instead, they were to act in a manner that would earn the respect of all who came into contact with them.
THANKS TO ALL
“When you sacrifice a thanksgiving offering to G-d, you shall slaughter it to gain favor for yourselves. On the day that it is sacrificed you must eat it; you shall not leave any of it until the next morning, I am Hashem.” Vayikra 22:29, 30
Until The Next Morning – The Korbon Todah [thanksgiving offering] is of the Shlamim category of offerings, which typically allows for it to be consumed for two days and one night. The Todah however, is an exception to that rule as it may only be consumed the day it was brought and that evening.
A Thanksgiving Offering – Not only is the animal offered but the owner must also offer 40 Challot [loaves], which are eaten together with the animal in the designated time period. – Vayikra 7:12,13
Why does the Torah insist that the Korbon Todah be accompanied by such an inordinately large number of loaves that no human being can be expected to consume in such a short period of time? Furthermore, why is the time span for eating this particular offering so much shorter than all other offerings of this nature? Rav Zalman Sorotzkin zt”l explains in Oznaim L’Torah that the purpose of the Todah offering is to demonstrate one’s gratitude to the Almighty for the kindnesses bestowed upon him. It is most appropriate that this be done in the presence of many others, so that as many people as possible learn of His kindness. Therefore, the Torah insisted that it be eaten in a short time, and that it be comprised of a large amount of food as well. This ensures that numerous others will be present at the meal and witness his gratitude toward G-d.
A TIMELY SUBMISSION
“He shall wave the Omer before G-d that it be favorably accepted for you. On the day after the day of rest (i.e. the first day of Passover), the Kohen shall wave it.” Vayikra 23:11
Be favorably accepted for you – If you bring it according to these rules, it will be favorably accepted for you. – Rashi
Be favorably accepted for you – What sort of Divine favor does the waving of the Omer accomplish? In the merit of the Omer, damaging windstorms and destructive rains are suspended. – Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 37b
On the day after the day of rest – This must refer to the day after the first day of Passover, which is the 15th day of Nissan. Until the 16th day, all new grain is forbidden to be eaten. – Rabbeinu Bachya
The name of this grain offering, “Omer,” is somewhat difficult to understand. After all, the word Omer refers to a measure of barley, and that is hardly a reason for the Torah to call the offering by that name. No other offering is referred to by its physical components, but by its spiritual underpinnings. Ktav V’Kabbalah explains that the term “Omer” can also mean “submission,” as is evident from a verse in Devorim 24:7. The offering is named Omer because it symbolizes our willingness to submit ourselves to the service of the Almighty, through the Exodus of Egypt which led to the acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai fifty days later. That is why we count forty-nine days of the “Omer” to express our ever-expanding submission to Him as we approach the holiday of Shavuot.
GOOD CROP, BAD CROP
“You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the day of Passover, from the day on which you will bring the Omer wave-offering, seven complete weeks they shall be.” Vayikra 23:15
It is a positive command in the Torah for each individual to count seven complete weeks from the day the Omer is brought in the Temple, as it says…it is obligatory to count the days along with the weeks…A blessing is recited before the counting etc. – Sefer HaMitzvos HaKotzer, Mitzvah 26
The Omer offering is brought from the new crop, and the counting begins in conjunction with it and continues until the holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. In this manner, the new crop is associated with the Torah. What is the symbolism behind this association? Maharal explains that this teaches that the two are interdependent, for if we wish to merit a bountiful crop, we must remain focused on Torah study. Conversely, our Sages [Pirkei Avot 3:17] have taught, “If there is no bread, there is no Torah,” for success in Torah requires proper nourishment and material sustenance. The new crop needs the Torah, and the Torah depends upon the new crop.
INDIGENT OR INDIGNANT?
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corners of your field as you garner, and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest, for the indigent and the proselyte shall you leave them; I am Hashem, your G-d.” Vayikra 23:22
When you reap – For what reason does Scripture insert this precept regarding gifts to the poor in the middle of the chapter of the festivals? This teaches that anyone who leaves over these gifts to the poor is considered as if the Holy Temple was standing and he offered its sacrificial offerings within it. One who fails to do so is considered as having neglected to offer the sacrificial offerings while the Holy Temple stood. – Torat Kohanim
One of the primary purposes of the three festivals was to ensure that the Kohanim and the indigent would receive support from the masses who attended. Thus, one who gives these gifts is analogous to one who ascended to the Temple during the three festivals and fulfilled all his requirements. – Torah Temimah
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l offers another penetrating insight into the reason these precepts are inserted into the chapter regarding the festivals. Leaving one’s home to ascend to the Holy Temple for a long duration required an immensely high level of trust in the Almighty. Nevertheless, the Torah insisted upon it, because a Jew must have nothing less than full trust in Him, and this was an excellent way to develop it. Similarly, one who is asked to give charity of his harvest must believe with all his heart that his sustenance is entirely a gift from the Almighty and that there is nothing to fear in leaving some over for others. He must know with certainty that the Almighty can and will replenish his loss and not even wince as he abandons parts of his field to the indigent. One who does so, but finds it a struggle, lacks complete trust, and this impacts his relationship with the Almighty to a serious degree.
FIRING THE LIGHTS
“Command the Children of Israel to bring to you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination to keep the lamp burning constantly. Outside of the Curtain of the Testimony [Holy of Holies,] which is inside the Tent of Meeting, Aaron shall arrange it to remain kindled from evening until morning before G-d, continually as an everlasting statute throughout your generations.” Vayikra 24:3, 4
Inside the Tent of Meeting – The menorah stood just outside the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting. The length of the Tent of Meeting was 40 cubits, and therefore this verse begins with the letter “Mem” and ends with the letter “Mem,” whose numerical equivalence is 40. – Baal HaTurim
Aaron shall arrange it – Although the verse insists that Aaron should arrange the lights of the menorah, in truth, any Kohen was permitted to do so. The same is true for the daily ketoret (incense offering), although there, too, the verse speaks of Aaron performing the service. Why refer to Aaron when others, too, were acceptable? During its years in the desert, the Tabernacle was graced with a cloud symbolizing the Divine Presence in a manner found only on Yom Kippur, once the Tabernacle was relocated in Israel. In a sense, therefore, it was as if it was Yom Kippur every day while in the desert. Just as only Aaron (i.e. the High Priest) performed these services on Yom Kippur, it was fitting for him to do so during their time in the desert as well.
These verses speak only about the preparation for the lighting of the menorah, but don’t address the act of lighting that was done each night. That is discussed, instead, in Parshat Beha’alotcha. Interestingly, the Talmud in Tractate Yoma tells us that in actuality, the preparation for the lighting had the exalted status of a Temple Service, whereas the act of lighting itself did not enjoy that status. The ramifications of this designation are many, of course. Shem M’Shmuel derives from this that more important than the mitzvah itself, the preparations one makes to do the mitzvah, and the attitude with which it is approached, are even more significant. The act of lighting the menorah was greatly enhanced by the pure intent of the one who prepared it. So it is, explained Shem M’Shmuel, with all of our mitzvot. The love and devotion we demonstrate toward the mitzvah adds significantly to its value.
Hey, I Never Knew That
by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER
“G-d said to Moses, Tell the Kohanim, Sons of Aaron, and say to them, ‘You shall not defile yourselves for a soul’ ” (Vayikra 21:1). Some interpret this verse as two statements that Moses is to tell the Kohanim. The first is “Sons of Aaron”—that is, “realize that you are not just priests, but sons of Aaron, who loved peace, pursued peace and brought people close to Torah (Mishnah, Avot 1:12) and so you must do the same.” The second statement is “do not defile yourselves”—that is, “In the pursuit of peace and in reaching out to people, do not compromise your standards of Torah and do not compromise your morality.” So the message of the verse is: Be like sons of Aaron, but don’t sully yourselves in the process (heard from Rabbi Isaac Bernstein).
The Torah sanctifies Shabbat and the festivals with prohibitions against various work activities. Ramban (Nachmanides) maintains that in addition to the formal list of prohibited work, there are other ways to sanctify these times. The Torah calls the festivals “holy convocations” (Vayikra 23:2) which the Ramban understands as an obligation “to gather together in the house of G-d and to publicly pray and praise G-d, while wearing appropriate, clean clothing and celebrating with a feast” (Ramban, ad loc.). The Torah also declares the festivals and Shabbat as “days of rest” (Vayikra 23:24) which the Ramban (ad loc.) explains as an obligation to desist from weekday activities, strenuous activities, and anything that would make the festival into a semblance of a weekday.
Word of the Week
by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER
“The eighth day is a sacred holiday to you… it is an עצרת—atzeret, for you, no manner of work shall be done” (Vayikra 23:36). Rashi translates atzeret as “staying on” in the presence of G-d after the seven days of Sukkot, related to עצור—atzor—stop. Others translate is as “hold back” or “refrain” from work (Rabbi David Kimchi, Sefer Shorashim). Targum Onkelos uses the words מא(ע)רעי קדיש meaning a “holy convocation, or festival” (Jastrow Dictionary of the Talmud).
“You shall not desecrate — תחללו — techallelu My holy name” (Vayikra 22:32). Most commentaries relate the word חלל — desecrate or profane to the word חול, which means weekday, non-holy, or profane. Thus, the commandment forbids us from acting in such a way as to profane or diminish the holiness associated with G-d’s name and His Torah. Others understand חלל as “a hollow space,” because when one acts in an inappropriate fashion one is creating a moment that seems to be devoid of G-d’s presence; in other words, a “holiness vacuum,” or empty space (Rabbi Moshe Shapiro). In Modern Hebrew, the word denotes an empty space, as in spaceship — חללית.
“And you shall sanctify him [the Kohein]…” (Vayikra 21:8). The Talmud (Gittin 59b) understands from this verse that one should honor a Kohein, and he should be called up to the Torah first, take food first, and in general be given preferential treatment. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein addresses the issue of whether the honor of a kohein would precede the honor of a Torah scholar. He responds that in honoring the kohein we are really giving honor to the institution of priesthood and to the tribe of the kohanim, descendants of Aaron. Inasmuch as that is so, since the ancestors of the kohein being honored include great scholars, and many without doubt greater than any living scholar, by honoring the kohein we are honoring all his ancestors as well, therefore we would not push aside that honor for the honor of a scholar (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:34).
The Torah commands us to sanctify the name of G-d, as the verse states, “And I will be sanctified among the children of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) explains that this mitzvah includes the obligation to give up one’s life rather than worship idols or convert to an idolatrous religion. Throughout Jewish history, many Jews both old and young have fulfilled this commandment and sacrificed their lives rather than submit to conversion and apostasy. However, commandments are generally only incumbent upon adult Jews (13 years of age for males, 12 years for females). Are minors included in the commandment of sanctification of G-d’s name? Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky (Emet L’Yaakov, Leviticus, ibid) maintains that since the commandment is phrased in passive form, “I will be sanctified,” it is not the action which is the commandment, but the resultant sanctification that is crucial. If the action would be emphasized then it would follow the normal rules for commandments and children would be exempt. However, since the goal is the result and that can be achieved by anyone, therefore all are obligated, even children.
Parsha at a Glance
Animals offered as sacrifices had to be free of blemishes. No animal could be offered before it turned eight days old, nor could a young animal be slaughtered on the same day as its mother. Violating these laws constitutes a desecration of G-d’s name, and controverts the purpose for which G-d took us out of Egypt. We are forbidden from desecrating G-d’s name, and on occasion must sacrifice our lives rather than transgress certain cardinal sins.
The parsha singles out Shabbat as the day of rest. It then lists all of the holidays and describes how they are to be observed.
- In Nissan, we celebrate Passover, when we dispose of chametz and eat matzah.
- On the second day of the holiday, the Omer offering was brought in the Temple, permitting everyone to make use of the new grain.
- Seven full weeks are counted until Shavuot, when two breads from the new wheat harvest are offered. Warnings are repeated not to forget the poor and the convert during our holiday celebrations.
- On Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar.
- On Yom Kippur, a day of forgiveness, all eating and drinking is forbidden, and other restrictions also apply.
- On Sukkot, there is a mitzvah of carrying the lulav and We temporarily live in sukkot to remind us of G-d’s constant watchful care over us.
- Shemini Atzeres, the day on which we begin praying for rain to fall in the land of Israel, completes the holiday calendar.
All of the holidays are marked by restricted weekday activities, Temple sacrifices, and abundant joy.